Reviewers’ Favorites 2021: Anthony Mueller

I often get asked how ended up with Washington State and South Africa as my wine regions/coverage areas. Yet when you think about it, both wine-growing regions are notorious for being quite hot, base some of their best red bottlings on Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and other red Rhône varieties and also offer Chardonnay and other interesting white grapes. I was born in the Sonoran Desert, and every time I visit Washington’s Columbia Valley and parts of South Africa’s Western Cape, I feel at home. There is a treasure trove of fantastic wines waiting to be discovered from Washington State and South Africa. While I felt confined to only picking five wines, this short list rounds out my favorite wines reviewed in 2021. I hope you enjoy them.
A Wine for the Cellar: 
2018 Porseleinberg Syrah (South Africa, Western Cape, Coastal Region, Swartland)
Porseleinberg vineyard (Photo courtesy of Vineyard Brands)

The 2018 vintage marks a stylistic change in profile, where tannin management was brilliantly focused. And it’s the first vintage that received a submerged cap fermentation, leading to a dynamic floral bouquet, with a seductively sincere profile of elegant and juicy Syrah from Porseleinberg. Winemaker Callie Louw managed to concoct an explosive blockbuster of a wine that should absolutely be in every serious collector’s wine cellar. I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive when opening this vintage after the brutally tannic lineup I encountered the last time I connected with Louw in person at the vineyard. Nevertheless, it’s a stunning wine that left me gleefully pondering what’s in store for future vintages of Porseleinberg. 

A Wine That’s Under the Radar: 
2013 Côte Bonneville Cabernet Sauvignon Dubrul Vineyard (USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley)
(Photo courtesy of Côte Bonneville)

Owned by the Shiels family, Côte Bonneville oddly deserves this title. Apologies to anyone who already knows about this wonderful producer and the magnificent wines they create. When thinking about which wines are flying under the radar among all those I reviewed this year, this bottling immediately made the very short list. Winemaker Kerry Shiels is a master of her craft, creating brilliant wines of great complexity, deserving of a lock-box case at your local boutique wine shop. This luxurious and sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignon will undoubtedly make most drinkers do a double-take when tasting it for the first time, as it possesses all of the qualities of a cult wine in the making. You will definitely want to add this to the cellar.
A Wine for Tonight:
2019 The Blacksmith Wines Barebones Cinsault (South Africa, Western Cape, Coastal Region, Paarl)
Tremayne Smith of The Blacksmith Wines (Photo courtesy of Pascal Schildt Selections)

This is a fun one. The Blacksmith Wines made its debut in our database this year with two new wines reviewed: Barebones Cinsault and Barebones Colombar(d). Recognizing the huge potential for South African Cinsault, I decided to run a small report dedicated to this misunderstood variety in order to shine a light on what an enjoyable, pleasurable drinking experience it can be. This lil’ beauty delivers a mouthful of crunchy red fruit with bright acidity and possesses a carbonic lift that makes my mouth water. Not overly complicated, nor expensive, try this succulent and crushable Cinsault from winemaker Tremayne Smith. Just give it an extra chill and serve it around 48 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (nine to 13 degrees Celsius). You can thank me later.

A Wine from a Producer That Exemplifies Sustainability: 
2017 Reyneke Cornerstone (South Africa, Western Cape, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch)
Johan Reyneke, Nuschka de Vos and the Vine Hugger team (Photo courtesy of Reyneke)

Nominated this year for the Robert Parker Green Emblem, Johan Reyneke exemplifies sustainability in South Africa, not just environmentally but socio-economically as well. An avid lover of organics and biodynamics, encompassing farm animals and compost heaps with a holistic approach to grape growing, his ideas and philosophies have grown beyond farming. Reyneke is inclusive of his employees and the strides forward for the betterment of his workers, their families and their future. Reyneke created the Cornerstone project (renamed Capstone for the American market), where his employees are seen as the foundation of the business while crafting the delightful Cabernet blend made by winemaker Nuschka de Vos. This bottling is a sure win that you can feel good about drinking.
A Wine That’s Especially Good Value: 
2018 Andrew Will Cellars Two Blondes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley)
Andrew Will Cellars founder Chris Camarda (left) with son/winemaker Will Camarda (Photo courtesy of Andrew Will Cellars)

While I review the wines from both Washington State and South Africa, I resisted the temptation to slip a South African wine into this category, further propagating the stereotype of value wines. Alas, the honor goes to Washington’s Andrew Will. Legendary winemaker Chris Camarda offers up another smashing success with the Two Blondes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. It offers a classic and sincere expression of Cabernet with soft, classic dusty red and black fruit tones, with a hint of savory herbs, a dusty undercurrent and lively mouthfeel. Best of all, it’s a screaming deal at $35 and is set to be released in the spring of 2022. In whatever situation the world finds itself, upon the release of this wine, I stand by the last line in my tasting note: “For this price, buy four bottles.”

More articles from this author